When Father’s and Mother’s Days roll around and everyone posts love stories about their parents, I always feel kind of lonely. I also feel as if I–or someone–ought to figure out how to write the perfect post about being the damaged child of damaged parents. My parents were the narcissistic and, in my mother’s case, alcoholic offspring of other screwed up people who had their own issues. I’m sure my mother and her siblings were abused, possibly sexually, and my father lived a lonely, orphaned life until he was 16 years of age, when he got on his bike–this was during the Great Depression–and went off to seek his fortune. He was an angry man. And my mother was an angry woman. Both had good reason to be, but it’s not okay to beat up and neglect your kids because you yourself are frustrated. However, it was a generation of postwar parents who assumed ownership of their children, and believed the best way to control them was through rage and, often, physical violence.
I am sure that many people reading this are nodding their heads knowingly, but in my case there is a difference that not everyone will relate to, because I have seen time and time again that children who are abused by their parents continue to love them despite everything.
I am not one of them. I cannot deny that when each of them, in the near past, died, I was relieved. I grieved, but I realized that I was grieving for the parent I never had, more than for an actual person. I am aware that, as human beings, we are supposed to forgive those who do us harm, but I never did. As time goes on, I understand more and more, but I cannot honestly say I have forgiven. Over time, my anger has dissipated, and I take increasing responsibility for my own part in the conflicts I had with them, but I would still not want to live with either of them again.
Love all, trust none; forgive all, forget none; respect all, worship none. That is the manner of the wise. – Inayat Khan
The thing about being raised by someone you cannot trust is that when you grow up, you tend not to trust most authority figures. This brief post is about the father I eventually found, my Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. I loved him dearly throughout my life and will until my own death and thereafter. However, it took me many years to know him as my father and to trust him as I had never trusted my father-of-origin. The following is a brief story I am reminded of on this particular holiday:
Once upon a time, when I was still in my early twenties, he asked me to come to the (then) New York khanqah (this is the Arabic name for a spiritual commune, so to speak) to have a talk. He ended up giving me Holy Hell over something that was going on in our center, and being a spiritual infant at that time, my ego rebelled, and I felt unfairly blamed. It took me a long time to get over my resentment of what he said, and he did not give me “equal time” to defend my own point of view. I remember him saying “I have to try to be your Father and help you to do what’s right.” Without going into what he asked of me, let me just say that it of a political nature and was quite a lot, on that occasion. Looking back, I realize that to take on the role of spiritual father was a tall order for him, especially given the Father who had raised him (Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan).
I was not able to appreciate his comment about his obligation to be my spiritual father, although I do remember feeling a vague sense of comfort, even as I felt anger with him; but as the years went by, I realized that he really did mean exactly what he said, and even though I was only one of thousands of students, he was always there for me, whether in a dream, in a letter or in person. Eventually, I learned to accept what he had to offer on the terms he chose, and I am all the better for it. He was always looking up, and he never gave up. Now he waits for all his children in the planes of Light.
Thank you, my Father. It is a great joy to be able to write you a love letter on this day.